As a vegan, I know about all the new products, restaurants and Netflix documentaries. I have vegan friends and share some of the same vegan views. At times, in this vegan bubble of mine, I even begin to believe everyone’s becoming vegan. A simple conversation with a relative quickly dispels that notion. The reality is that within the United States, vegans only make up an estimated 3% of the entire population. That’s like comparing an edamame, to an, I don’t know, elephant.
A recent study reveals the silver lining, as veganism has increased around 300% in the last 15 years. That’s an incredible explosion within a short space of time. You can credit the internet with this “mushroom” cloud of a diet shift. Whereas the initial conversation siloed around animal rights, over the years it’s expanded to include climate change and personal health and wellness. More specifically, two important factors for any new way of approaching things; advances in technology and just plain ol’ hands-on human ingenuity.
One person forging her own brand of human ingenuity is Executive Chef Mimi Williams of Counterpart Vegan in Echo Park, California. Using 100% market fresh ingredients and plant-based processes, she creates familiar staples that are nearly indistinguishable from their original meat-based iterations. This is in stark contrast to many vegan spots that feature alternative protein-heavy menus, which are great advances as well, yet different.
Raised in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, Williams was one of only a handful of Black families in the community. She shared a household with her parents and six brothers of Sicilian/Creole descent. Although she didn’t resemble most of her neighbors, Williams had a strong family support system. One could say she grew up with a traditional family in a non-traditional setting.
While her mother seemingly loved cooking and wanted Williams to learn, she recalls initially being resistant, feeling forced into doing a thing based on her gender expectations. Learning how to cook felt more like work than fun. Noticing that, her father encouraged her to cook things that interested her. That encouragement was the magic needed to open the floodgates of the world of food.
Williams’ was pushed to explore alternative diets during a period in which her father experienced health complications. With his doctor citing less meat consumption as a course of action, her family subsequently became early adopters of a mostly plant-based diet. By this time, Williams had become the de facto cook for her family, with her siblings frequently requesting her food.
At first, it took awhile to adjust to a mostly plant-based lifestyle, but after witnessing her father’s health improve firsthand, she was convinced the diet change was the right decision. These experiences helped Williams develop a perspective on food many Black people don’t have. She discovered veganism some years later during pregnancy after realizing she could no longer consume meat.
Honing her craft at restaurants across America, Williams’ still carries the same spirit of fearlessness and creativity her father encouraged as the current Executive Chef of Counterpart Vegan. Joining the team in 2019, she set about revitalizing Counterpart’s array of offerings. She credits a period of stagnant creativity as the stimuli behind her latest eight course tasting menu.
Consisting of familiar foods inspired by her upbringing, the flavors feel authentic. Some of the offerings include heirloom tomato carpaccio with a tasty and tangy vegan feta, pappardelle made from beets, seasoned squash ravioli and an unforgettable tiramisu as the finale. Williams’ new menu is a fine dining experience vegans and non-vegans alike can enjoy. She says she wants people to walk away feeling a sense of hope, and that when they share, “I didn’t know you could do that with this type of food,” that’s how she knows she’s on the right track.
If you’re looking for some momentary respite from quarantine, while supporting small businesses during the pause of outdoor dining, Chef Mimi will be offering a condensed version of the tasting menu as take-out for two. The dinner package will include a salad, appetizer, pasta, dessert, and likely, two non-alcoholic drinks.
There will be 25 of these dinner plates available to all guests and can be pre-ordered on Tock. The dinner package will be available every Friday and Saturday for pick-up, from 6PM-8PM.